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'I was quite happy, but something had to go - the football or the job'

Kerry captain Caroline Kelly discusses the nine-hour round trips she endured to be at county training before moving home.

KERRY FOOTBALLER CAROLINE Kelly knew that she had a decision to make.

Caroline Kelly and Ciara McAnespie Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

After seven years of commuting from Naas to Kerry for county training, the nine-hour round journeys were starting to impinge on her football.

Hamstring injuries were becoming an issue and she was also suffering from back pain.

All of the aches were attributed to the excess driving, and although she enjoyed her life as a teacher based in Naas, Kelly knew she had to take action if she wanted to preserve her career for a while longer.

It definitely was a struggle and I was quite happy in Naas, but at the same time something had to go — the football or the job,” she told The42 at the launch of the TG4 All-Ireland football championships.

“The job in Wicklow left and I relocated back home. Definitely, it is much easier now and definitely as I get older, the car journeys took their toll a bit more on me and it was time for me to move back home.”

Now captain of the Kerry seniors, Kelly resides in Killarney, which is just a half hour’s drive from Kerry’s training base in Tralee.

It’s a notable reduction on the time she spent driving to training previously.

There would be Wednesdays,” she continues, “and I would go to work as normal, get straight into the car, down to Tralee for training. Train for around an hour and a half or two hours, and by the time I’d get back up to Naas, it’s gone past midnight.

“You have Thursday free, you’re exhausted and you’re back down the road again on Friday.

“I suppose you’re just so focused on why you’re doing it. It’s almost looking back now you that you’re realise it probably was a bit of madness.

“At the time, you’re in the zone and you want to do everything you can, everyone has the same goal.

“My body decided to relocate. I’m back down in Killarney now and it’s so much easier. I appreciate the half hour drive to training.”

Kelly guided Kerry to a senior Munster title earlier this season, following a two-point victory over a Waterford side who have just joined the senior ranks after winning the All-Ireland intermediate title last year.

Kerry accounted for old rivals Cork on the way to provincial glory, but were previously beaten by Waterford earlier in the campaign.

Marie Ambrose tackles Caroline Kelly Caroline Kelly in action against Cork in 2015. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Kingdom, according to their captain, were guilty of putting out an error-strewn display against the Déise that day, and were eager to atone for their mistakes when the sides met again in the decider.

Previous Munster championships were primarily contested by Cork and Kerry, and Kelly remarks that Waterford have increased the level of competition in the senior championship since their arrival.

“They’ve really rejigged the Munster championship this year in beating Cork as well as ourselves. Credit to them, they have stepped it up completely. Their intensity the first day was something that we definitely couldn’t match.

“We struggled at certain times in the Munster final and thankfully, we got over the line. But yeah, they’re an up and coming side and I wouldn’t fancy meeting them in the qualifiers.

“We made very basic errors that day against Waterford, very uncommon handling errors for us. It probably was our first day out and maybe we weren’t up to the pace of championship. Waterford certainly were that day and were deserved winners because of it.”

Following on from that Munster title triumph last month, Kerry are finally resuming their championship campaign today, as they take on Armagh in the TG4 All-Ireland quarter-final.

Cork remain in the hunt to defend their All-Ireland title, having come through their assignment against Monaghan last weekend. And although there is talk of an apparent decline in the reigning champions due to the loss of some key players, they are still favourites to be in the All-Ireland final again this September.

Sinead Finnegan and Ciara O'Sullivan The 2016 TG4 Ladies Senior All-Ireland Championship Final between Cork and Dublin. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kerry are one of the few teams who have beaten Cork in previous championship campaigns, and yet, they would not be considered one of the teams expected to join Cork in that All-Ireland decider.

But Kelly insists that a quietly confident Kerry are happy to prepare in peace, while others put the expectations on Cork and Dublin.

We’ve absolutely no problem giving the attention to Cork and Dublin, but we feel that we’re up there with the rest of them as well. We mightn’t get the publicity but that’s not our concern in the slightest.

“We’re happy to keep working quietly away in the background. We’re going to try and just work hard for the next few weeks.

“I think maybe teams mightn’t have that psychological fear of Cork as it goes on. Teams are changing, and even the Cork team are changing.

“When it came to the campaign this year, there was a lot of players in the Cork panel that I didn’t recognise, whereas other years I would have known every single player nearly after playing them so many times.

Things are changing but you’re never going to write Cork off. Any team that would, would be foolish to do so. They’re always going to be fantastically strong.”

Kelly is into her 14th year of playing senior inter-county football for Kerry, and this is the first season in which she has held the honour of captaining the side since getting the call-up.

She appreciates the level of responsibility that this role brings, and crucially, she’s pleased to see the team evolve from being a side that struggled to find the answers when games went against them, into a composed unit that can recover and work their way back into the tie.

Bringing home the Munster trophy is a nice way to reward the Kelly family for the years they have invested in supporting their daughter’s endeavours, and Caroline hopes to bring home more trophies in the future.

She’s working away quietly with Kerry to make that happen.

“It was lovely, and it was nice for my family as well who have been following along for years. At least, they have a trophy at home now for all their hard work over the years as well.

“It was extra special, but we’ll see what comes next.”

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